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Microsoft Researchers Study "Cyberchondria"

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the it's-just-a-tummy-ache dept.

Medicine 144

Slatterz introduces us to the first major study on "cyberchondria" by Microsoft researchers (abstract, paper [PDF]). The news that it can be a bad idea to search the Internet to see if you have a terrible disease should come as no surprise. According to the NYTimes article, the syndrome has been known as "cyberchondria" since at least the year 2000 (we discussed it a few years back). It refers to increased anxiety brought on when people with little or no medical training go searching for answers to common medical complaints on the Web. The article compares cyberchondria with a phenomenon well known among second-year medical students, called "medical schoolitis." The researchers note that Web searchers' propensity to jump to awful conclusions is "basic human behavior that has been noted by research scientists for decades."

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Even worse... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25917529)

Cyberchondria Wikia - A variant of Cyberchondria in which symptoms, causes and diseases change at random when suggested by other users

I have a doctors opinion on this (1)

celardore (844933) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918307)

IANAD, but I know several personally, and also from trips to the GP. From what I gather, they quite like that a patient researches the symptoms and mentions this to the Dr. They don't like a patient coming in and saying, "Doctor, I have this illness and require this medication." Self diagnosis is a useful tool for any medical practitioner, but self medication can always be dangerous. A profesional opinion is something that can't be read or learned on the internet.

A side note, I had dinner with a couple last night who are medical doctors and have been practicing for over 30 years. I asked the question, "What when either of you are ill, do you diagnose each other, yourselves, or what?" They replied that they may well see an out-of-town doctor. Reason being is that if they diagnose themselves or each other there will always be some bias. If they see a colleague who works in the same practice as them, the colleague would know their private business.

Re:Even worse... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918503)

"Oh," I said. "The medicine, yes, it's right here". I reached into the kit-bag for the amyls. The kid seemed petrified. "Don't worry," I said. "This man has a bad heart - Angina Pectoris. But we have the cure for it. Yes here they are."

Re:Even worse... (1)

Wandering Wombat (531833) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918639)

You can't post here! This is bat country.

Re:Even worse... (1)

philspear (1142299) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918701)

Oh god! I think I have that [citation needed].

Same rules apply... (5, Insightful)

Z80xxc! (1111479) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917573)

The problem might not be the use of the internet for information, so much as how people are going about getting and using that information. Just like one wouldn't trust some random person off the street or even some unknown doctor-like person in a white coat walking down the hall at the hospital, one can't blindly trust information on the internet. Getting a second opinion, (and a third, and a fourth) might help people to get a better idea of what's truly happening. They should still talk to a doctor, rather than relying solely on their internet diagnosis, but they might be able to at least get a general idea of what might be wrong. Using medical information on the web as one's only source is irresponsible; it should be common sense to get a balanced opinion and also to see a real medical professional.

Re:Same rules apply... (2, Informative)

westlake (615356) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917841)

The problem might not be the use of the internet for information, so much as how people are going about getting and using that information.

The Microsoft research paper addresses this directly by comparing and contrasting how users responded to searches through MSN and MSN Health and Fitness, which searches a limited number of trusted sources for public health information. As you would expect, sites which are carefully vetted and never needlessly provocative or alarmist calm most fears.

Re:Same rules apply... (1)

zolltron (863074) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918121)

The problem isn't so much that the information isn't reliable, just that important parts are left out or not considered by the individual. For instance, the base rates of many diseases tell you a lot about what your likely to have given a particular set of symptoms. Most websites don't give you that information, or when they do individuals ignore it. As a result, they tend to believe that they have a terrible disease based on true but incomplete information.

Good information has the same problem. (1)

Repossessed (1117929) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918797)

Good information isn't much better for hypercondria than bad. For a start, its very difficult for someone who isn't used to looking at the information format to be sure how to interpret it. I've dealt with people who are afraid they have $condition, because they show most of the symptoms, but simply neglect to look at the symptoms that don't fit, or aren't aware that 9 of the ten symptoms (which they have) don't mean a thing because the tenth is critical. Subjective ones, like major pain, or stiff neck (without qualifiers like unable to touch you chin to your chest), cause problems as well since its easy to get mild symptoms interpreted as worse than they really are in a panic (judgment is not terribly good when fatigue and fever are taking their toll).

Re:Good information has the same problem. (1)

cheater512 (783349) | more than 5 years ago | (#25919377)

Some dodgy ads prey on that. "Have you got back pain? A mild cough? A itchy toe? Well you need !"

I have... (1)

Jizzbug (101250) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917575)

Deuteranopia, Pectus excavatum, and Autosarcophagy.

This spells trouble (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25917655)

So you are color blind, you have a malformed chest and you cannibalize your own flesh... A rare combination indeed.

This is another reason why Italians (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25917591)

This is another reason why Italians should be banned from the Internet, so they can stop spreading these malignant doubts and rumors among our virgin populations.

hm (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25917609)

I've been mis-diagnosed by doctors and found the problem successfully myself (and then had doctors treat). One time it involved cancer, but I can think of at least 2 other times. Not that I'm smarter than doctors or anything like that, but sometimes it does help to study things yourself.

Re:hm (3, Insightful)

rhyder128k (1051042) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917797)

This was the first thing that leapt to my mind as well.

Basic scenario: Patient is able to spend six or seven hours carefully searching message boards and the web for something exactly matches their symptoms. In all fairness, patients aren't always brilliant at specifying their symptoms clearly and exhaustively. Next day, patient goes to see doctor and points out something that the doctor has missed. Doctor thinks, "Who the hell does this guy think he is? I'm God!". Patient gets a telling off for causing a nasty case of cognitive dissonance in the mind of the doctor.

I think that things are perhaps worse in the UK as we have a state healthcare system. As a result, Doctors don't always treat patients with the same respect that they would a paying customer. I've had some private dental care, and the attitude was like night and day. In contrast, a doctor once told me off for having read the the little leaflet that came inside a packet of pills.

Re:hm (1)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918271)

The differences between a state-run and HMO-sponsored healthcare system aren't terribly different, apart from the massive administrative overhead associated with the HMO-based system.

I've been through both types of systems, and doctors tend to have varying levels of indifference in both types of system.

People love to complain about the NHS, though at the end of the day, the statistics seem to show that they're doing a pretty good job.

(Dental care, IMO, on the other hand, is a completely different game, for whatever reason.)

Re:hm (1)

cheater512 (783349) | more than 5 years ago | (#25919393)

Possibly because you pay dentists somewhat more?

Re:hm (1)

snaildarter (1143695) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918133)

Amen. American hospitals drive their doctors to get as many patients in and out the door as quickly as possible. Hospitals then try their hardest to stop competition from other hospitals by hiding numbers like infection rates and how successfully they treat various diseases.

It's a broken market, whereby patients (customers) cannot judge hospitals or doctors. Few decision metrics are available. This is libertarianism at its worst. I'm pro competition, and in this case, it means we need to mandate the availability of more metrics. One should have the freedom to pay more for a doctor/hospital with a good track record on the metrics that matter most to you (say, a doctor that actually takes the time to get the diagnosis right), and less for those that don't.

Hmm, hypochondriac... (1)

DeadManCoding (961283) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917611)

OK, so now we have a word that is the same as another, with a slightly different definition. Instead of people freaking out about imagined illnesses, now they have the ability to get online and find other illnesses that they didn't realize they had... Fantastic. Irritating doesn't even begin to describe my feeling about this one.

Re:Hmm, hypochondriac... (1)

Elektroschock (659467) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917657)

What about Comfrey?

Can you eat Comfrey pancake or shouldn't you?

Re:Hmm, hypochondriac... (1)

vux984 (928602) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917851)

Irritating doesn't even begin to describe my feeling about this one.

Don't worry, they have a cream for that... look for it online. ;)

Oh No... (5, Funny)

routerl (976394) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917633)

This means I've just found another condition I might have by browsing the internet! Damn you cyberchondria!

I would disagree (5, Interesting)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917637)

The researchers note that Web searchers' propensity to jump to awful conclusions is "basic human behavior that has been noted by research scientists for decades."

In my anecdotal and limited experience, I've noticed that it is certain personality types which have a "propensity to jump to awful conclusions".

They basically resort to hysterics over things they cannot control, even before they know how [thing] is going to end.

You'd be surprised. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25917843)

This'll probably sound trollish, but it's a true story:

One day while I was... uh.. taking care of business... I noticed something was a little off. Mostly because that activity shouldn't be painful.

A few web searches later (and I'm talking days and days of web-based research), I was quite convinced that I'd suddenly had my first herpes outbreak. The symptoms lined up: Blistering, redness, soreness, painful ulcers, the whole lot. After it didn't go away (and some of the denial wore off) I saw my doctor.

"I think this is herpes," he said to me.

A couple of standard tests and a bottle of Valtrex later, I lacked a conclusive diagnosis.

After waiting three months for a referral to a dermatologist (they really do take forever, we need more of them), I went through months of excruciating morning wood with what felt like an endless herpes outbreak (cause I frequently wake up laying on my stomach) to have the dermatologist look at it for about 20 seconds before he finally diagnosed Lichen Planus [wikipedia.org] .

In my personal experience though, my web-based self diagnosis was just as good as the one a real doctor had had before real tests were done.

On a side note, at least I know I don't have any herpes virus, or hep C.

Cheers.

Re:I would disagree (1)

El Puerco Loco (31491) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918395)

well, it always ends the same way, doesn't it? sooner or later, they're bound to be right.

Re:I would disagree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918819)

You've met my wife?

How often are they right, though? (1)

cptnapalm (120276) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917643)

Several years ago, I noticed something about a patch of skin. I looked it up and asked the dermatologist about it. He, of course, ignored me and the question.

Three diagnoses, two prescriptions and 7 office visits later, he consulted with several doctors around the country.

I had been right from the get go, though he would never admit it.

Re:How often are they right, though? (1)

Crias (1388217) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917977)

Dude, RTFA.

Paragraph 1:

If that headache plaguing you this morning led you first to a Web search and then to the conclusion that you must have a brain tumor, you may instead be suffering from cyberchondria.

Cyberchondria is when you search the net for your symptoms and suddenly start panicking because you think you might have something bad.

This suggests the opposite of your post - you should consult medical professionals.

Dermatology is a completely different beast, because many skin conditions have no real tests. The creed of dermatology is "if the area is moist, make it dry, and if it's dry, make it moist". I've had a problem for 2 years now undiagnosed. *shrugs*

Conclusion... (4, Funny)

rodrigoandrade (713371) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917645)

I haven't RTFA, per usual, but I'm sure the study concludes that it's a great idea to search the Internet to see if you have a terrible disease using Windows Live Search.

Re:Conclusion... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25917949)

From the -summary- of all things:

The news that it can be a bad idea to search the Internet to see if you have a terrible disease should come as no surprise.

If you're not going to RTFA at least RTFS. Clearly Cyberchondria is relating to when you think you have something wrong with you, you search the web, find relating symptoms, and go "OH CRAP! I'm dying!"

It suggests that perhaps you should consult a medical professional instead of Google.

Re:Conclusion... (3, Interesting)

westlake (615356) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917961)

I'm sure the study concludes that it's a great idea to search the Internet to see if you have a terrible disease using Windows Live Search.

What the study actually found, of course, is that you are far better off using a search engine that links only to known-good sources for public health information.

The AMA. The American Cancer Society. The Center for Disease Control.

The geek shouldn't shrug off studies like these because they expose a serious problem with a general search engine like Google - and a search service that has perhaps become too much a marketing machine.

Re:Conclusion... (2, Funny)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918037)

I haven't RTFA, per usual, but I'm sure the study concludes that it's a great idea to search the Internet to see if you have a terrible disease using Windows Live Search.

Hello there! I see you're looking for information on WHY DOES IT BURN WHEN I PEE?

Would you like to:
( ) Schedule a visit to Planned Parenthood
( ) Swear you'll use a condom from now on
( ) Order some monostat
( ) Call mom while crying on the toilet.

Re:Conclusion... (1)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918103)

Provided you put "site:nhs.uk" or something similar at the end of your search query.

You can do this in Google as well.

Re:Conclusion... (1)

rrohbeck (944847) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918147)

Of course using Windows Live Search is a terrible disease. Duh.

Thats why we built MEDgle (5, Interesting)

ashdamle (1419349) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917649)

We (myself and a couple of doctors) started MEDgle (http://www.medgle.com/ [medgle.com] ) specifically to help people understand the possible causes for their symptoms. Hopefully this will help combat cyberchondria by giving people reasonable causes, not the most dire. And as you stated, people should always talk with their health care provider. Any feedback is much appreciated. Cheers

Re:Thats why we built MEDgle (1)

St. Alfonzo (1393181) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917717)

What's with the forced login for "more/uncommon symptoms"? Clearly you 'doctors' are trying to experiment on me!

Re:Thats why we built MEDgle (3, Interesting)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917787)

I seem to recall sometime in about 2000 there was a report that a computer program had been designed that asked a series of questions and provided a most likely diagnosis. It was apparently better at doing this than the doctors were by a small margin. The project was axed though after a huge outcry that it would put doctors out of business, couldn't be trusted because it couldn't be medically licensed, liability issues, etc. Has anything changed since then?

It seems like a good idea -- people punching in their symptoms and getting an answer about whether to take a trip to the ER (perhaps printout in hand) or not, and with people spending hours in waiting rooms only to find out they have the common cold or just bad menstral cramps, doesn't it make sense to give people the option of entering all their data into a computer first? If we tied such a database into the admissions system, they could show up with all their insurance, contact information, and symptoms list already available for the triage nurse. I'm not advocating taking a person and their clinical experience out of the loop, but certainly there's ways to use medical data to do better targeting. I've felt the same way about pharmaceuticals and wondered why there isn't a database to track adverse reactions to drugs on a per-patient basis... If someone's tried three different anti-depressants and had a poor response to them, maybe that particular reaction projects that Drug X would be 60% more likely to be effective than Drug Y. As it is, it's often drug rhoulette(sp?) until you find one that works.

 

Please state the nature of your medical emergency. (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918081)

I seem to recall sometime in about 2000 there was a report that a computer program had been designed that asked a series of questions and provided a most likely diagnosis.

You might want to look at the table on page 10: "Symptoms, Explanations, and Serious Illnesses." The "virtual doctor" has been around like forever - page through almost any back issue of Byte or Creative Computing - if you want to try a sampling FreeMD [freemd.com] is a good a place as any to begin. Personally I prefer my HMO's help line nurses, who are on-call 24 hours a day, toll-free.

Re:Thats why we built MEDgle (1)

Keychain (1249466) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918421)

Main problem here (and with the OP initiative) is that most people (me included) won't be able to exactly point out their symptoms clearly enough for a machine to be able to diagnoses their illness correctly

Re:Thats why we built MEDgle (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918699)

Sounds like you're thinking of Larry Weed's Problem-Knowledge couplers [pkc.com] . These have been around for literally decades - they were the next big thing when I was in medical school (early 80's). Apparently it hasn't died yet, but every time I look at them, I find that they are 1) slow 2) SLOW 3) tend to look for unusual / uncommon diseases and 4) not any better than hitting a textbook (or these days Google).

The problem with computers sorting on symptoms is that symptoms are common, symptoms overlap diseases and there are a lot of unconscious filters that medical professionals use to get the diagnosis in the ball park that have yet to be fully rationalized. They could be useful as an adjunct to jog your memory or in a training, but they aren't going to replace anyone.

IMHO, the biggest problem with these sorts of programs is that humans aren't rational and aren't strictly deterministic. Applying a strictly rational, deterministic approach to "fixing" people only goes so far.

Re:Thats why we built MEDgle (1)

Reziac (43301) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917835)

Okay...feedback: I already hate the fact that I have to log in to select more than one symptom. This is going to turn off a lot of people who are embarrassed over whatever condition.

I do like the organ chart -- clever and unique.

I was amused to see this ad copy below the organ chart

Facebook Borne Disease

Wow, so you CAN catch diseases thru social networking! ;)

Re:Thats why we built MEDgle (1)

snl2587 (1177409) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918019)

feedback: I already hate the fact that I have to log in to select more than one symptom.

Didn't seem to be a problem for me, although I did notice that less common symptoms did require a logon. Not sure why, though.

I did notice that this was considerably better than WebMD at identifying that the symptoms for my recent stomach flu were not, in fact, indicative of cancer, but I still wish someone could make a program that described symptoms as a patient would describe them without printing out a list of preposterous diagnoses in the process.

Re:Thats why we built MEDgle (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918029)

Yeah, I basically avoid sites with compulsory registration as much as reasonably possible.

Re:Thats why we built MEDgle (1)

Twinbee (767046) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918005)

Great stuff. I thought of this kind of thing a while back, but it's brilliant to see people putting this thing into practise, especially with this level of automation.

Re:Thats why we built MEDgle (1)

xTantrum (919048) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918151)

I don't see any problem with individuals searching for answers for possible ailments and illnesses, as long as they employ critical thinking and don't jump to conclusions without facts. I often use the web to find info about what could be wrong with me and then on seeing a doctor usually surprise him/her with the little knowledge that i gained by individual research. Obviously the buck still stops at the doctors but informing myself helps me to make a better decision and not just swallow what the doctor says, because contrary to popular belief just cause they memorized a bunch of stuff doesn't make them intelligent.

I've had two episodes now where it helped to be informed before going to the doctors. the most recent: for severeal weeks i was house bound and just all around freaking out because i was getting this tightness in my chest, and it was hard to breath at times. It litterally felt like i was having a heart attack but the symptoms were sporadic. Eventually it got to the point where i was awake one night and felt like i was about to die. couldn't breathe, a vice grip around my chest etc. so my girl called the ambulance. went to the hospital, stayed there for 5 hours, they ran tests on tests, couldn't figure it out. gave me a clean bill of health and sent me home. Unfourtantely for me there is always something on the other side of the equation, so i researched online and turns out i had tietze syndrome [wikipedia.org] ask me if i didn't email this to the doctor who took care of me? ask me if she wasn't grateful and probably red faced. the former yes, the latter i don't know.

the point is: the internet is a tool and can be useful if used wisely. if you just believe everything you read on it and don't question you're just about as dumb as excepting what political figures say without critical thinking. Which of course is the problem.

Re:Thats why we built MEDgle (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918313)

I'm a doctor too. Are you not afraid of downplaying certain symptoms? You know, for example, epigastric discomfort could be an AMI or the beginning of aortic dissection, but could also be indigestion. From my experience, in seeing an average of 50 patients per day for 8-9 years, I've learned that automated programs like FreeMD can only be useful for textbook cases but the problem is that diseases often don't read medical textbooks. Anyway, I'd be worried about an automated program or website which alleviated patient's fears,
an experienced clinician should be the one to decide whether a seemingly innocuous symptom is worth investigating or not. I'm sure you've thought of this and have compensated for it. Thanks.

"Browser, browser..." (2, Funny)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917711)

"...it hurts when I go like this!

Re:"Browser, browser..." (3, Funny)

gooman (709147) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917849)

Well, then don't do that.

It's not new, just easier (4, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917715)

The web hasn't made this behavior any less prevalent, it's just made it easier for people to fall into the trap. There are two camps in the medical community right now; Those who think that medical knowledge should be contained to those who are properly licensed, and those who think knowledge is power (but hope people use it responsibly). If this sounds familiar, it should -- our community (the technical and engineering disciplines) have had the same debate. We've all had our share of "technocondriacs" -- people who insist there's something wrong with their computer, even when we've scanned it with everything, reloaded the operating system, and defragged the drive five times... They somehow think it should run faster, or that there's a button somewhere to do X when there's never been X in that application. And no sniggering about literacy or operating system of choice here -- it happens to users of all backgrounds.

One example is pharmaceutical advertisements. Five years ago, using the words "Erectile Dysfunction" would have left people giggling on the floor. These days, it gets an eye roll and a remembrance of those commercials. It's undisputed some people have a problem rising to the challenge and may not have known there was a treatment for it, but the unintended consequence is a lot of people are taking medications that aren't medically necessary because of self-esteem problems, obesity, or a plethora of other causes that can be treated without a pill. Which of course leads to the "Solve everything with a pill" attitude that our society seems to enjoy, but that's a topic for another day.

I have to side with the idea that knowledge should be out there. My friend just got a horrible ear infection that resulted in extreme pain and puss coming out of her ear because the doctor misdiagnosed it as "swimmers ear"; She needed strong antibiotics and he prescribed drops, and so for three days she's been laid out on a couch screaming and crying every few minutes. She only went back to ER after researching out what else it could be besides swimmers ear, and an ear infection turned up -- there was no difference in the symptoms list, except the pain level. And her mother is a registered nurse who works in a hospital -- she didn't find anything wrong with the diagnosis either. My friend's access to the internet may very well have just saved her some hearing loss this week!

So which side is right? Both. And neither.

Re:It's not new, just easier (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25917761)

<i>unintended consequence<i>

/golfclap

Re:It's not new, just easier (2, Funny)

Emperor Zombie (1082033) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917783)

My friend just got a horrible ear infection that resulted in extreme pain and puss coming out of her ear because the doctor misdiagnosed it as "swimmers ear"

I imagine that having a cat crawl out of one's ear would be quite painful.

Re:It's not new, just easier (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25917805)

You're a fucking moron, who happens to be very not funny.

Re:It's not new, just easier (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918131)

For the benefit of society I hope that he is not a fucking moron, just a plain moron.

Re:It's not new, just easier (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917997)

I imagine that having a cat crawl out of one's ear would be quite painful.

Yes, however that'ss not anatomically possssible. A more likely explanation might be a ssticky key.

Re:It's not new, just easier (1)

Cowmonaut (989226) | more than 5 years ago | (#25919259)

Where's the -1 Not Funny moderation? :P

Re:It's not new, just easier (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918017)

Not just puss, but boots as well.

Re:It's not new, just easier (2, Insightful)

lxs (131946) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917931)

but the unintended consequence is a lot of people are taking medications that aren't medically necessary

What makes you think this is an unintended consequence?

Re:It's not new, just easier (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918201)

What makes you think this is an unintended consequence?

Good point. :( Perhaps "negative consequence" would have been better phrasing.

Re:It's not new, just easier (1)

NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917941)

Very true. Another good example of this is the "disease of the day" report in various magazine shows. I know this is an anecdote but my dad would see these things and then turn around and thing he had them. Hell look at mad cow disease. That's been diagnosed in the US a grand total of 3 times and never from actually eating US beef yet loads of people actually worry about catching it from eating too much beef. (Actually from what I remember it's never been diagnosed from people eating American, Australian, or New Zealand beef. I haven't checked on Canadian beef but I'd guess nobody has caught it from that either.)

Re:It's not new, just easier (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25917951)

We've all had our share of "technocondriacs" -- people who insist there's something wrong with their computer, even when we've scanned it with everything, reloaded the operating system, and defragged the drive five times... They somehow think it should run faster, or that there's a button somewhere to do X when there's never been X in that application. And no sniggering about literacy or operating system of choice here -- it happens to users of all backgrounds.

Thanks, was looking for an excuse to bring up CyberSTDs and Cyberchondria STDs that are making the anti-virus industries so much money. Guess should refer to them now as technochondria STDs and technoSTDs since you used that term and to distinguish from human disease phobia. Of course some protection against such issues is built into *nix OSs but that just makes it ask you something akin to "Do you wish to remove the condom from your ROOT and interact with this software?"

Assumptions, instinctual and learned fear are part of our "programmed" methods of dealing with our environment faster. Hyperchondria is a "goto" programming error in a sub-program that is connected to survival programming or possibly a processor error similar to what can happen with say a Pentium 60. We "jump to conclusions" out of necessity when it comes to survival, couldn't run a full logical analysis when that sabertooth tiger was looking at you which perhaps is how the prejudice against intelligence and logic got started.

Re:It's not new, just easier (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918869)

Actually, antibiotics have little to no effect in otitis media. Lignocaine drops (which is what I imagine she was given) reduce the pain, and is entirely appropriate treatment. Another medication that is not medically necessary are antibiotics overprescribed to zealous patients who don't understand clinical evidence.

Re:It's not new, just easier (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25919191)

It was bacterial otitis media, not viral, hence the pus discharge. Antibiotics are entirely appropriate you clod.

Cyberchondria? Microsoft? (1)

Philzli (813353) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917735)

That stuff makes me sick, I'm telling you!

Similar to psychology (1)

edcheevy (1160545) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917751)

There's a similar phenomenon in psychology when students take their first abnormal psychology class. If you don't want to be (half-jokingly) diagnosed with any number of mental disorders, you want to temporarily avoid a psychology student who has just started to read the DSM!

Zebra syndrome (4, Insightful)

st0rmshad0w (412661) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917753)

Yeah this sounds like classic zebra syndrome.

Zebra Syndrome is immediately jumping to the rare possibility when given a piece of evidence. When you hear hoofbeats you should think "horses", not zebras.

Someone gets an ache or pain and hops on Google and suddenly they have Schistosomiasis or something else equally as absurd.

Re:Zebra syndrome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25917863)

Yeah this sounds like classic zebra syndrome.

Zebra Syndrome is immediately jumping to the rare possibility when given a piece of evidence. When you hear hoofbeats you should think "horses", not zebras.

Someone gets an ache or pain and hops on Google and suddenly they have Schistosomiasis or something else equally as absurd.

What if you lived in a country where there are zebras instead of horses?

Or you were standing in a zoo

Re:Zebra syndrome (1)

IchNiSan (526249) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918163)

Some zoos I have been to(can't think of specific ones right now) have mounted police presence. So if you hear hoofbeats, think horses, unless you are right next to the zebra habitat.

As for other countries where there are zebra, sure, but there it is probably called Horse Syndrome.

Re:Zebra syndrome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918243)

Tell that to the survivors of the Great Zebra massacre.

Re:Zebra syndrome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918809)

But, but, what if you're in south-central Africa?

Re:Zebra syndrome (1)

Kayden (1406747) | more than 5 years ago | (#25919431)

Should you still be thinking horses if you're in the bull pen?

at the risk of paraphrasing Shaw... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25917773)

...this is a variant of age-old authoritarianism which comes down to ridiculing the layman for trying to be aware and take care of the affairs normally reserved for a "pro".

I've known one person - already suffering from a mental illness which would likely cause the described symptoms - who has panicked from reading medical sites and attempting self-diagnosis. Everyone else I know seems perfectly capable of observing that people aren't regularly collapsing in the street, and while certain symptoms warrant a quick elimination of serious cause, a diagnostic test is likely to result in good news.

Unfortunately - and particularly under the UK's NHS - it's often the patient rather than the doctor that needs to express that the odds may be low, but not so low that, say, an MRI isn't warranted. For certain conditions, good diagnostic testing also enables the right treatment to be chosen.

If you don't want to offend your ego-sensitive doctor, express your thoughts as questions: "I'm trying to understand more about my body. Can you explain why it would not be X, say, or Y?" A primary care practitioner/GP is partly an applied statistician, so if you have a maths/science background, you might also get a lot of interesting information.

Personal experience (2, Interesting)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917779)

A few years ago, I woke up with a terrible pain in my lower abdomen. I did a quick Google search and matched all the symptoms of appendicitis, so I got my parents to take me to the hospital.

The first doctor also thought that I had it and scheduled me for surgery. However, the surgeon said to wait for a while.

Turns out that it wasn't appendicitis and that I just had to fart really, really, really badly. Of course, 24hrs in the hospital to figure it out probably makes it the most expensive fart ever -- something around $5,000.

So yes, this "cyberchondria" really is a problem.

Re:Personal experience (3, Insightful)

BorgDrone (64343) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918003)

The first doctor also thought that I had it and scheduled me for surgery. However, the surgeon said to wait for a while.

That's the thing that bugs me the most about the whole medical pseudo-science. They just try something and hope it works, they never actually try to get to the bottom of it and find the real problem. High blood pressure ? Here, have some medication that artificially lowers it. They don't bother to find out WHY it's high and correct that.

It's a good thing these guys didn't go into the programming business because I bet they would be awful at debugging.

Re:Personal experience (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918013)

and apparently so is health care wherever you live that it costed $5K

Re:Personal experience (1)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918609)

I had dropped out of uni for a little while, so I wasn't covered by my parents' insurance at the time and we had to pay the full bill. But yes, the health care system in America is pretty broken.

Re:Personal experience (1)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918905)

Honestly, is sounds like everything worked properly. Just because you have to wait a few minutes at a red light when there are no cars coming in the other direction doesn't mean you give up on stop lights. If your symptoms looked like appendicitis, then you should have been at the hospital. The surgeon didn't think it looked EXACTLY like appendicitis, so he said to wait, but kept you close at hand in case he was wrong, yet didn't do a surgery that was unnecessary.

What would have been a problem outcome is if the surgeon got in there, saw your appendix was fine, but took it out anyway to avoid a malpractice lawsuit.

Mirror, mirror... (2, Funny)

SrWebDeveloper (1419361) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917791)

So I looked up "Porn Addict" on WebMD, you know - to do research for a paper I'm writing - and got to a page there which included a brief Flash video of me behind my keyboard, typing in "Porn Addict" on WebMD. Jesus, this technology is AMAZING.

also called med student hyperchondria (2, Interesting)

peter303 (12292) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917853)

The condition is common in med students who seem to get sick with whatever conditions they've recently studied.

It Has A Medical Counterpart, Too (3, Insightful)

Wandering Wombat (531833) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917859)

Because doctors know that people can often search for stuff like this on the internet, many medical professionals will IMMEDIATE ignore any and all such comments or queries. I've come to three doctors now with information I found in medical journals and on the internet which match my symptoms (migraines, blackouts, audio and visual hallucinations, seizures, fugue states... basically, every facet of certain kinds of epilepsy). All three doctors have told me, in various ways, that since I found this information myself, it's clearly NOT what I have.

I continue to have blackouts and seizures, and continue to go untreated, because unless I have a seizure in my doctor's office, he'll just assume I'm trying to get medication out of him.

I call it "Smug Superioritis".

Re:It Has A Medical Counterpart, Too (1)

ptbarnett (159784) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918407)

I call it "Smug Superioritis".

I suggest you find another doctor.

After years of taking penicillin-based antibiotics with no problems, I developed an allergy to it -- probably because of a stronger than normal dose. However, my reaction was a rare one. So, when I complained to the doctor, he didn't have an immediate answer. It got so bad I couldn't sleep, so on a hunch I got up in the middle of the night and pulled up the full disclosure for the medication from the manufacturer. I had to look up the meaning of some of the terms used for side effects reported during the drug trials, but I found an exact hit. I called the doctor's office the next morning, and their reaction was swift -- stop taking it.

Since then, my doctor has never questioned any investigation I do on my own. He even complemented the Wikipedia entry that I found on something I contracted (although in all fairness, it was quite obvious), and joked: "what do you need me for?". I shot back: "because I don't have a license to prescribe the medication!".

I'm sure that doctors see psychosomatic illnesses all the time. But, if they refuse to take the time to differentiate between the real and imagined symptoms, they are missing a big part of the picture. Maybe a few big lawsuits from people who went untreated will change their mind.

If you can afford it, try going to the emergency room of a regional health center -- especially right after a seizure/blackout. I inadvertently found that certain complaints set off an overwhelming response, and even after I tried to slow it down, the doctor admitted that once I said those "magic words", they were obligated to follow through to avoid potential liability.

Re:It Has A Medical Counterpart, Too (1)

Wandering Wombat (531833) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918619)

I have gone to the hospital, but they best they can tell me is "inconclusive". I might have it, I might not, and unless I spend something like 72 hours hooked up to an EEG and deprived of sleep, they won't be able to tell for sure, and even if they get a positive hit, the medication sounds worse than the condition.

I just want to be taken seriously by the people who have made it their life's mission to make sick people feel better. *grumble* Still, these are the same doctors who said for six months that my son had "growing pains", before FINALLY giving him a blood test and finding out "Oh, hey, your son has a rare idiopathic form of juvenile arthritis, and he'll be on medication and physiotherapy for the next four years. If only we had caught it sooner."

Symptomitis (1)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917865)

That's the general term I'm used to for medical, psychological and similar self-induced symptom anxiety. TFA is just a blatant attempt to claim a piece of it for themselves, when the cause is the same whether it's internet based or Babylonian cuniform on clay tablets.

The source of the discomfort is plain old cognitive dissonance. Some people are more prone to it than others, for a number of reasons. They're the same ones who intend to relieve the anxiety by learning what they can about why they don't feel well. But being prone to the dissonance, they instead find a rationale for the anxiety that's worse than any real cause, and it backfires and they fall into a feedback loop.

In psychological and psychiatric training, it's more common for the symptomitis sufferer to diagnose their relatives than themselves.

critical thinking (2, Insightful)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917939)

Most people -- including, I suspect, doctors -- have trouble with critical thinking, and one area that tends to be a particular problem is critical thinking about probabilities and cause-and-effect relationships. I'm a community college professor in California, and recently there was a big state-wide earthquake drill, which they made into sort of a media event. The day before, I heard my students before class talking about it. "There's gonna be an earthquake tomorrow at 10 o'clock." "Huh? They can't predict earthquakes, can they?" "I heard it on the news." "Really?" Most people just accept information without thinking about it critically. Obama won't say the pledge of allegiance? Oh, okay.

I don't think medicine is different from any other field where people gather their own information, and I don't think health-care professionals are always much better than anyone else at this kind of thing. For example, I had a certain foot problem, and my G.P. prescribed physical therapy. One of the things the physical therapist did was to use ultrasound on my feet (therapeutic ultrasound, not ultrasound for imaging). I checked on the web later, and it turned out that the only controlled scientific studies on the topic had shown that ultrasound had no effect on my condition.

I think it's telling that "evidence-based medicine" is a term that even needs to be used. If it's not evidence-based, what's it based on? Wishful thinking? Voodoo? The placebo effect?

Re:critical thinking (1)

rrohbeck (944847) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918301)

That ultrasound treatment is typical money grabbing by the medical-industrial complex. I struggled with back pain for years, going from doctor to doctor and getting everything from massages to injections, including ultrasound and chiropractics. Nothing helped, except for short term relief.
After realizing that doctors don't know more about my body than I do myself and that they have their wallets' well being in mind at least as much as mine, I went out and did my own research.
The solution? A gym membership and 10 personal trainer sessions - intense weight training to strengthen my core muscles. That was several years ago. Now I'm maintaining my body at a cost of about $300 per year, and it's even fun.
My realization: There is no health care, just sick care. If you want health care, you have to do it yourself. The medical-industrial complex is interested to keep you as a customer.

I claim a patent ... (1)

Old97 (1341297) | more than 5 years ago | (#25917999)

on a person thinking they have a disease, syndrome or condition - or talent or acumen for that matter - based on bits of random information collected without the benefit of knowledge or training. There. Everyone now owes me money.

The Singularity (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918021)

Does anyone else find it mildly encouraging that the Internet is bringing the general population up to the level of second-year medical students?

Ray Kurzweil is smiling somewhere.

Re:The Singularity (1)

DeadManCoding (961283) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918363)

Actually, I find this very disturbing. Med students are in class for learning this stuff, and being objective about diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Having Joe Six Pack figure out he has some acute disease that affects less that 1 percent of the world's population after reading about it online bothers me. Said person then shows up at the doctor's office with his "evidence" of the disease makes me wait an extra hour at the office for a simple check up.

Re:The Singularity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918617)

Then again, if it was YOU that showed up with information that could help a doctor treat a serious condition you or someone close to you has, I'm sure you wouldn't want to hear "Sorry sir/madam, but I have a patient waiting for their checkup here. If you'll just go back to the waiting room, I'll get back to you later. Assuming you haven't died by then."

Re:The Singularity (1)

DeadManCoding (961283) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918889)

If I did have that information, it's about guaranteed that the doctor has that information too. After all, that's what I pay him to do, keep up-to-date on medical research to help me with a disease. Doctor/pharmacists are required to complete continuing education courses so that they have the latest information available. And they also have just as much access to WebMD as me, so no excuses there either.

This is nothing new (1)

Fizzol (598030) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918049)

My Mom has done the same thing with a medical encyclopedia for years. She looks things up and decides she has them.

Cyberchondria and self diagnosis are good things (2, Interesting)

syousef (465911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918349)

If you conclude the worst, and you have the disease you might go and seek medical help sooner. If it turns out you're right, you might catch your disease in time to have something about it.

The other thing to note is that good medical care, even in the "developed" world is increasingly becoming hard to find. Doctors do long hours and are under immense pressure and the best and brightest sren't always attracted to the field, and when they are they often feel entitled to gouge the people they treat while providing sub-standard care. That's not to say there are no good doctors, just that there are surprisingly few. A good doctor will save you but a bad one will get you killed.

I've had friends and loved ones prescribed medications that almost killed them (and had dosage increased by 3 separate doctors in one case, as one of the contraindications got worse and worse!). I've seen routine things completely misdiagnosed. I've seen a woman with maternal asthma barely able to breath and hacking up huge amounts of flem dismissed as a fat hypochondriac. I've seen shoulder dislocations misdiagnosed as swelling - something that commonly happens resulting in long term should instability. (Don't believe me? Check out the literature on posterior shoulder dislocations and include "avoiding a missed diagnosis" in your search).

I've also been told I should have my ankle fused by 2 specialists. According to them I should no longer be walking, but when I looked up the long term prospects - after 3 months off my feet completely only a 70-80% chance of success (in which case repeat once then chop off foot) I can expect a couple of years recovering and about 6-7 years before severe ankle arthritis hits. I have gone for more conservative treatment - staying off the ankle - and while there is still pain I walk a couple of kilometers a day and haven't had to sacrifice my career. I may still have to have the surgery but these surgeons didn't even suggest TRYING anything conservative.

IF you use the internet appropriately instead of looking up ever sneeze and cough and assumign you are dying, the net is a wonderful thing. Anyone who says otherwise has a vested interest in keeping the information from you.

Steering cartilage? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918399)

If you need to coin new fake-Greek terms, they should at least make some sense.

On the other hand... (1)

Mr. Underbridge (666784) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918469)

...if you actually do have something badly wrong with you, online resources can be invaluable. They're particularly good when you have something wrong that's rare enough that your doctors don't know what it is, presents a variety of very common symptoms, and you happen to be reasonably intelligent. Online resources can be incredibly valuable in getting an idea of what might be wrong with you, at least to know where to start looking.

In my case, I had a chronic disease for eight years that doctors proved completely unable to diagnose. Not only that, they couldn't even get me to the right specialist. Finally, after years of putting up with that, I started searching myself for a specific set of symptom combinations that are rather rare for my demographic.

As it turns out, I was able to do with google and effort that which a bunch of doctors and tests couldn't do: namely, figure out what was wrong with me. Sure, there were lots of scary things (cancers and whatnot) that I was able to easily eliminate because 1) I didn't have the right symptoms, and 2) I'd be dead by now if I had them. Eventually, I found one particular disease that matched all my symptoms.

And it's a good thing I did, because my particular illness causes chronic symptoms that eventually result in permanent damage. For me, there's no treatment but the damage can be avoided by changes in diet and such. Thankfully, the changes have worked extremely well. Without online resources, I'd probably still be bouncing from doctor to doctor, none of whom apparently have the time to do actual investigative research.

In an age in which doctors don't have time to be doctors, online resources can be invaluable. You just have to bear in mind that most of the scary syndromes described are usually very rare.

Cyberchondria (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918557)

It's psychosomatic? That means I better take some antibiotics, right?

On the other hand (1)

wytcld (179112) | more than 5 years ago | (#25919027)

A friend's vet told her her beloved cat needed to be killed because it had "advanced cancer." So she spent days on the Net searching on her cat's symptoms. She came across the suggestion that it could be a gluten allergy, fed the cat a gluten-free diet, and now six months later the cat is entirely healthy.

So ... go to the doctor first if it seems serious. But you're a damn fool if you accept a diagnosis or treatment without first doing your own research. Misdiagnosis - by doctors - is one of the leading causes of death.

The obvious joke... (2, Funny)

MessyBlob (1191033) | more than 5 years ago | (#25919237)

I think I have Cyberchondria...

Common among open source weirdos (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25919301)

Hans Reiser thinks his wife had "Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy" and recently accused his lawyer of having oxytocin excess. Bram Cohen thinks he has Asperger's. I would guess that the vast majority of the people that say they or their children have Asperger's probably fall under Cyberchondria. The DSM-IV is great for this as it's just chock full of vague symptoms that are easily misinterpreted by people with no training.

The internet saved my sight (1)

GreatDrok (684119) | more than 5 years ago | (#25919365)

Last year, I woke up and found that my eye was full of floaters and I was seeing flashes. I quickly checked for those symptoms using Google which led me to a page on Wikipedia describing the symptoms of a detached retina. I called my wife down from upstairs and told her we were going to the hospital. When a doctor checked my eye, I had indeed suffered a posterior vitreous detachment which had ripped several chunks of retina away. I was immediately treated with a laser and the doctor told me that if I hadn't been so prompt it is likely I would have gone blind in that eye. I have had to have several other surgeries (more laser treatment, vitrectomy and finally a membrane peel) and am on the road to recovery. I will likely get a cataract which will be treated by lens replacement but at least I can still see.

Of course, my symptoms were quite specific so I can understand people with quite general symptoms thinking they have cancer or something.

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